The Trisagion Prayers - Part 2
Fr. Thomas Hopko · April 8, 2013
Fr. Tom continues to talk about the Trisagion Prayers - "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us" - and talks specifically about the recipient of this prayer. Is it Christ or is it the Holy Trinity?
We will continue today to reflect on the Trisagion, the Thrice-Holy Hymn, at the Liturgy of the Word, also called the Liturgy of the Catechumens, namely, the first part of the Divine Liturgy: where psalms are sung, where special hymns are sung, where the clergy enter into the altar area with the solemn singing of “O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ. Save us, O Son of God…” and we would say, “...who was risen from the dead” or “...who was transfigured in glory” or “...who was baptized by John in the Jordan” or whatever might be sung there, “...save us who sing to you: Alleluia.” Then the hymns of the day are sung, a prayer is said for the singing of the thrice-holy hymn, and then the thrice-holy hymn itself is sung:
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal: have mercy on us.
What I would like to do today as we continue our reflection is to see how that is done and what it means and what difficulties arise, so to speak, that have to be addressed with this particular part of the Liturgy. At the entrance into the holy area, the altar area, of the bishop, or the priests, who’s heading the service, with all the clergy, and coming before the holy altar table in the sanctuary, you have the singing of the thrice-holy hymn.
What I would like to mention today is that there is a controversy, a historical controversy, a theological controversy about to whom that hymn is addressed, the thrice-holy hymn. How is it to be understood in relationship to the doctrine of the holy Trinity and the doctrine of Jesus Christ being fully God and fully human, fully divine and fully human? What happened in history probably means that the Trisagion was used in churches before the fifth century, before the story of St. Proclus where the boy is caught up into the heavens during a procession, during a time of earthquake in Constantinople and heard the angels singing, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal: have mercy on us,” and then was led, as it said, gently back to earth, and he told the bishops what he heard the angels sing, and that is considered to be how the thrice-holy hymn entered into the worship life of the Orthodox Church.
However, it seems that that hymn was there before that, because this is the controversy that arose. The churches that did not accept the Council of Chalcedon—and those would be the Coptic Church in Egypt, the Ethiopian Church, the Armenian Church, the Church in Syria, the Syrian so-called Jacobite Church, and those missioned by these churches (a very important church would be the Church of India; the Indian Church was evangelized by the Syrians who brought the Syrian ritual to India) —in the ritual of these churches, they sang the trisagion. They sang, and still to this day sing, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal: have mercy on us.”
However, they sing&madsh;I don’t know whether it was there before Chalcedon or whether it came afterwards or whatever, but when they sing this thrice-holy hymn in their churches, until today—they add words to the Trisagion, and these are the words that they add. They say:
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, (and then they might add:) who was crucified for us: have mercy on us.
So they add this “who was crucified for us,” and I do believe that they may also add: “who was incarnate in flesh for us.” They modify the singing of the Trisagion so that it becomes, necessarily, a Christological hymn. In other words, a hymn addressed to the Person of Christ, who is fully God and fully man. Maybe they do that to emphasize the true divinity of Jesus, and that Jesus is the God-man. He is the Word of God enfleshed in human flesh and has his own proper body and lived on earth as a man. Maybe that’s what is being stressed here. You’d have to ask somebody else about that, perhaps a bishop or priest or theologian in one of those churches, how they understand that.
In any case, that is what they do; that is what is done. And I think that you can say—I would say—that, theologically, if you understood it that way, that would be fine. If you understood that we’re singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” to Christ as to God, and as to God who became human, we could say, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, Jesus Christ who was crucified for us,” and it would be perfectly sound theologically to say so, because Jesus really is the holy God, he’s the holy Mighty One, and he’s the holy Immortal one, even as God, because he has the same divine nature as God the Father and the Holy Spirit. So it would be possible to sing the hymn with that particular meaning.
However, being churches of tradition and history, we have to know that from the beginning, the churches of the Empire, the Greco-Latin Church of the Roman Empire, and those who came from that Church, like the churches of the Slavs—Ukrainians, Russians, Bulgarians, Serbians, and then the Romanian people, the Albanian people, the people of Finland, those who convert in America—we have a history and a tradition that the thrice-holy hymn, sung at the Divine Liturgy, the Liturgy of the Word, and then later on, of course, in the Anaphora of the Eucharist, the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” but sticking now to this “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal” wording at the Liturgy of the Word, came to be defended and practiced as not a hymn to Jesus Christ, to the Logos of God, who is divine.
It was a hymn to the Holy Trinity, to God the Father; to the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who is Light from Light, true God of true God, really divine with the same divinity as the Father; and to the Holy Spirit, the Person of the divine Spirit, who is also of one and the same divinity of God the Father and the Son of God, Jesus Christ. So those who belong to the Chalcedonian Churches and their successors, which would be those of us on Ancient Faith Radio here, we are obliged by our history and tradition to say that that hymn is not directed to Christ alone. It is directed to the Holy Trinity.
Here the evidence of that would be the following. The Emperor Justinian, as we know, and his wife Theodora, both canonized saints in the Church, they wanted to bring those who did not accept Chalcedon back into communion with the imperial Church—Constantinople, Rome—and not to have a schism. They tried hard to make formulas that would satisfy those who did not accept the Council of Chalcedon. There were many attempts to do that through the centuries following the fifth century, to try to find formulas that the people who rejected Chalcedon could agree to.
As a matter of fact, in the 20th century, theologians and bishops from the Chalcedonian churches and those who don’t accept Chalcedon, called nowadays the Oriental Orthodox, and those who accept Chalcedon being called the Eastern Orthodox, they did come to a theological statement that they believe that both churches could accept and was in continuity with what they have always believed and that this schism between the churches was just a terrible mistake. But the problem is you have history and you have piety entering into it.
The Emperor Justinian, who really wanted to heal this but was not successful, and emperors after him, like in the seventh century during the time of St. Maximus the Confessor and so on, they were not successful, but Justinian did write this hymn that is sung at the Liturgy of the Word of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil every single time the Liturgy is served, and that is the hymn “Only-begotten Son and Word of God, who art thyself immortal (so you see he’s the immortal one), and who became human (so he’s the incarnate one), who was crucified in the flesh, trampling down death by death…” But it’s very clear to say in that hymn: “who are one of the Holy Trinity.” That the one of the Holy Trinity became human, so there is no way that you can think that the Trinity became incarnate or that the three Persons of the Trinity became incarnate. It was only one of the Holy Trinity who became incarnate.
So you sing:
Only-begotten Son and immortal Word of God, who for our salvation didst will to be incarnate of the holy Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary, who without change became man and was crucified, who art one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit, O Christ our God, trampling down death by death: save us.
So in the Chalcedonian piety and liturgy, the trisagion is directed to the Holy Trinity, to the three Persons of the Godhead. It is not directed simply to Christ. Therefore, the Chalcedonian churches said it’s absolutely, completely, totally unacceptable to sing, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, who was born in the flesh for us,” or “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, who was crucified in the flesh for us,” because the Holy God, the Holy Mighty, and the Holy Immortal applies to God the Father, to the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Spirit. It can apply to Christ himself as God, but that’s not the way it was understood.
There’s this problem of what the words should be and how it’s to be understood. The Byzantine Orthodox churches and all the churches that came from the great Church of Constantinople and those who were faithful to Constantinople in Antioch and in Alexandria and in Jerusalem—because there always were those people who were faithful to Chalcedon; they were Chalcedonian Christians there, although they were the minority and those who rejected Chalcedon were the great majority—they had to understand that in the churches that accepted Chalcedon that the trisagion was sung to the Holy Trinity and not to Christ alone although you could make an argument on how that might be understood and be acceptable.
Now, Justinian’s hymn seems to have wanted to straighten that out and to make it clear that Jesus is one of the Holy Trinity, especially when it went on to say that the trisagion, the thrice-holy hymn, is directed to the persons of the Trinity. One of the defenses that those who think it can be directed to Christ alone is that, when Isaiah heard the angel singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” he only saw he who sits upon the throne. Who was that? It was God the Father. The Son of God is also co-enthroned with the Father. So is the Holy Spirit. They are co-glorified. Nevertheless, in Isaiah, there is no specific talk about a trinity of persons.
In the Book of Revelation that also has the “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, heaven and earth are full of your glory,” that does say that it is directed to him who sits upon the throne (namely, God the Father); and to the Lamb, and to the Son of God who was crucified, raised, and glorified and is co-enthroned and co-reigning with God the Father; and also the Holy Spirit is there with the Father and the Son in the Godhead, co-enthroned, co-glorified, co-reigning; and that’s what the Nicene Creed said about the Spirit:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, Light from Light, true God of true God… and we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, and who spoke through the prophets.
In any case, when the dust all settles—and it gets settled pretty much by the seventh century, and liturgical services are developed—it’s just important to point out on Ancient Faith Radio that the Trisagion in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Chalcedonian Church, is definitely directed to the Holy Trinity, not to Christ, and not to Christ alone, but to the Holy Trinity. Therefore, it is not acceptable to sing, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, who was crucified for us,” or “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, who was incarnate in the flesh for us,” because it was only one of the Trinity, and you don’t want anyone to think that the Father was incarnate or the Holy Spirit was incarnate or all three Persons were incarnate. No. Of course, when the Word of God is incarnate in human flesh, God the Father is in him and with him and on him at all times, and so is the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and he’s never separated from God his Father and he does his Father’s will and performs his Father’s work and speaks his Father’s word; he receives his very divinity from the Father, and in an analogous way so does the Holy Spirit, who is breathed forth from the Father, who proceeds from the Father, who rests in the Son. Both churches, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox, are radically Trinitarian churches, and both churches would reject any idea that God the Father took human flesh and suffered in the flesh. He, as a Person, did not; his Son did, but he did not. Or would have any idea that the Trinity was incarnate in human flesh; it was not: it was only one of the Trinity. Or would have any idea that the Holy Spirit was somehow incarnate in human flesh and died on the cross. That is not so.
The Messiah who was crucified and died had the Holy Spirit within him. It says in the letter to the Hebrews he was even led to the Cross by the Holy Spirit, the eternal Spirit of God. When he dies, in St. John’s gospel, he traditions the Spirit; he breathes his last and gives up the Spirit. In Slavonic: Peredat’ Dukh; Paradidōmi to Pnevma: he gives up the Pnevma, the Spirit. Some patristic scholars see that as meaning from the Cross Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on his disciples, from the cross, but this is the Holy Spirit who eternally proceeds from the Father alone and not from the Father and the Son together, and therefore both these churches would reject the filioque (claiming that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son).
In any case, getting back to the Trisagion, there are specific hymns in the Church’s liturgy which make it very clear that in the Byzantine Orthodox Church, which would include the Church of the Roman Empire, which would include the Latin Church, the Church of Rome and hopefully its Western descendants even among the Protestants, that if you’re going to say, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal,” you have to understand that you are directing this prayer to the Holy Trinity and not to Christ alone, so to speak.
Let me give you just two examples of liturgical hymns where this is made crystal clear. You cannot possibly deny that this is the teaching. One hymn comes from the feast of Pentecost. When the Orthodox Church celebrates Pentecost, it is the fiftieth day after Pascha, it’s the last day of the Paschal season, and it commemorates very specifically not only the first fruits of salvation, not only the giving of the Law to Moses, which was the feast of Pentecost in the Old Covenant, according to the Levitical law, one of the feasts of the Old Testament was Pentecost, celebrating the first fruits and celebrating also historically the giving of the Law to Moses on Sinai, and then for Christians it commemorates the day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and those in the upper room, 120 people, probably a symbolical number because it’s 12 plus zero, meaning all the fullness of the saved.
It specifically mentions in the Acts of the Apostles that the mother of Jesus was there with the faithful women, so there are women in that room, in the upper room on Pentecost. So the Holy Spirit was not simply placed on the apostles; it was poured out on the whole Church, as the prophecy of Joel says. The Holy Spirit will be poured out on all flesh, and young men will see visions, and young women will dream dreams. It’s on men and women, and it’s on the whole Church.
Nevertheless, in St. John’s gospel there’s what’s often called the Johannine Pentecost, which actually took place on Pascha night, according to St. John’s gospel, where Jesus comes and breathes the Holy Spirit only on the eleven who are in the upper room, giving them the power to bind and loose: “Whatever you bind in heaven is bound on earth, whatever you loose… receive ye the Holy Spirit.” In any case, there is this giving of the Spirit to the apostles at the third hour and to the body of the faithful in the upper room on the feast of Pentecost. But when the Church developed hymns for the celebration of Pentecost, they used the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” the Trisagion, as a Trinitarian hymn, not as a Christological hymn. In other words, it’s a theological hymn directed to the three Persons of the Trinity.
Here’s the hymn that is specifically making that point. It goes like this. It’s the hymn of the “Glory, now and ever” that is sung on the vespers of Pentecost, both on the eve and on the day of Pentecost itself. This is what it says:
Come, let us worship the Tri-Personal Godhead…
which could also be translated “the Tri-hypostatic Godhead” or can also be translated “the Tri-Personal or Tri-hypostatic Divinity.” It’s theotēs; it’s not theos. It’s the Tri-Personal Godhead.
That’s very important because it became very common among Christians, including Orthodox Christians, to speak about the Triune God. But I can tell you, I searched the liturgical books very carefully, and all of the Trinitarian hymns of our Orthodox liturgical books, to try to find that expression in our Liturgy, our worship, of “Triune God,” and I tried to find that in the Holy Fathers also, especially people like St. Athanasius, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Hilary of Poitiers, St. Ambrose of Milan, later on St. John Chrysostom, and all the holy Fathers who were Trinitarian, and no one uses the expression “Triune God.”
Theos is not Triune. Theos is the Father of Jesus Christ; the one God is the Father of Jesus Christ who begets a Son from before all time and breathes forth his Spirit eternally before the creation of the world and who has belonging to his very divinity his Logos-Wisdom-Son-Image and his Holy Spirit. In a sense, I like to argue when I can make the case, I don’t think we should say “Triune God.” I think it’s very, very misleading. We should say like the Liturgy says, “Tri-hypostatic Divinity” or “Tri-Personal Godhead.” This is what is the biblical teaching.
Come, let us worship the Tri-Personal Godhead: the Son in the Father with the Holy Spirit.
There you go; you have it. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, incarnate on earth, but from all eternity in the bosom of the Father, like St. John says in the prologue of his gospel; together with the Holy Spirit. Then it continues.
The Father timelessly begets the co-reigning and co-eternal Son.
The beginning is “achronos,” no time; it’s timeless.
The Holy Spirit was also in the Father, and the Holy Spirit is glorified equally with the Son.
So it says:
Come, let us worship the Tri-Personal Godhead: the Son in the Father with the Holy Spirit. The Father timelessly begets the co-reigning and co-eternal Son and the Holy Spirit who is in the Father is equally glorified together with the Son.
Then it continues:
One power, one substance, one Godhead...
One theotēs, one bozhestvo. Not one God, but one Godhead. Then it says, “In worshiping him”—and you can use that collective singular there):
In worshiping him…
The Father with the Son and the Holy Spirit and so on.
...let us all say:
And then here you have it:
Holy God, who made all things through the Son with the cooperation of the Spirit; Holy Mighty, through whom we know the Father and through whom the Holy Spirit came into the world; Holy Immortal, the comforting Spirit, proceeding from the Father and resting in the Son: O Holy Trinity, glory to thee.
And it uses that singular pronoun again, “thee.”
Although the New Testament sometimes uses a plural: “I and my Father will come, and we will make our home in you.” So the New Testament is very bold in its use of language.
But here what we want to see is very clearly that the “Holy God” is directed to the Father who made all things through the Son by the cooperation of the Holy Spirit. The “Holy Mighty” is directed to the Son through whom we know the Father and through whom the Holy Spirit came into the world. The “Holy Immortal” is directed to the comforting Spirit, proceeding from the Father and resting in the Son. “O Holy Trinity, glory to thee.”
Now, as we already said, there would be nothing wrong in saying to God the Father alone, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal,” because God the Father is Holy God, he’s Holy Mighty, and he’s Holy Immortal. There would be nothing wrong in even addressing to the Son, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal,” because the Son of God is God, the Son of God is [Mighty], and the Son of God is Immortal in his divinity. There would be nothing wrong in directing a prayer to the Holy Spirit, saying, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal,” because the comforting Spirit, the Paraklētos—the second Paraklētos, actually, in the New Testament; Christ is the first Paraclete; the Holy Spirit is another Paraclete, in St. John’s Gospel—there would be nothing wrong in saying, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal” to the Holy Spirit, because that applies; it is true. The Holy Spirit is God, the Holy Spirit is Mighty, and the Holy Spirit is Immortal.
But—you always have that “but”—in this hymn of the Church, that’s not the way it’s done. They are seeing in the thrice-holy hymn a reflection of the Trinity. Even in the Old Testament, there was a reflection of the Trinity, because in the Old Testament you have the one true God; you have the Word of God who is incarnate as Jesus, who is also the Wisdom of God, the Power of God, the Life of God, the Truth of God; and you have the Holy Spirit, the Devar Yahweh, the breath of God, already in the Old Testament. Then clearly in the New, you have the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All classical Christians are not Unitarians; they are Trinitarians. Of course, ancient Christians were—at least the Orthodox ones or the proto-Orthodox ones, as Bart Ehrman would say—that’s how they understand it.
Now, this same way of using language is used on the feast of the angels. There’s a feast on November 8 in the Orthodox Church that celebrates Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and all the hosts of heaven—the cherubim, the seraphim, the thrones, the principalities, the authorities, the powers, the angels, the archangels—all the ranks of angels have a festival day in the Orthodox Church here on the eighth of November. On this particular service, where you’re singing songs that have to do with the angels and who the angels are and what they do and how they act and so on, you have hymns which, again, they’ll say about the angels that they stand before the throne of the Tri-luminary Godhead, the Triple-radiant Godhead. Not God, but Godhead again; divinity, bozhestvo, theotēs in Greek—Tri-luminary. And in the hymn to St. Michael particularly, the archangel, you have this said specifically. I will read it to you now. It’s on “Lord, I call” during vespers. During vespers, when the evening psalm is sung and then the special verses and hymns for the day are sung, one of the hymns says this:
O Michael the Archangel, you have been revealed as the bright messenger (and “angel” means “messenger” in Greek) of the Tri-luminary Godhead. Together with all the heavenly powers (meaning all the nine ranks of angels), you cry out: Holy art thou, O Father; Holy art thou, O co-eternal Word; Holy art thou, O Holy Spirit: one glory, one kingdom, one essence, one Godhead, one divinity, one power.
So it’s saying that you can say, “Holy art thou, O Father,” and add, “and Holy Strong and Holy Immortal”; “Holy art thou, O co-eternal Word,” who is also “Holy Mighty and Holy Immortal”; “Holy art thou, O Holy Spirit,” who are also “Strong, Mighty, and Immortal.” Here again you have the three “Holy"s applied, one “Holy” to each of the Persons of the Holy Trinity. That’s how the Liturgy of the Byzantine, Chalcedonian Orthodox Church would pray.
Therefore, if there will be a reunion between those who rejected Chalcedon—the Miaphysites or Monophysites, or however we want to call them; the Coptic Church, the Armenian Church, the Ethiopian Church, the Indian, the Syrian—and the churches of the empire and those who were faithful to the Chalcedonian doctrine and the subsequent doctrines, like Constantinople, Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, where a significant number of the faithful did accept the Council of Chalcedon and stayed in communion with the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Rome, and they are today’s Eastern Orthodox Christians—that’s us on Ancient Faith Radio—... but what still has to be mentioned today is that when this controversy blew up, so to speak, and when there was this disagreement on how to understand the Trisagion, the Thrice-holy Hymn, there were a Fifth Ecumenical Council and a Sixth Ecumenical Council following the Council of Chalcedon, which was the Fourth Ecumenical Council.
The Fifth Ecumenical Council and the Sixth Ecumenical Council—a whole number of canon laws, canonical laws, were made in these two councils, and they were published historically as the Quinisext Canons, meaning the canons of the Fifth and the Sixth Ecumenical Council. There was a meeting in a place called Trullo, which was a palace in Constantinople, and that’s why these canons are sometimes called the canons of Trullo. And there are 102 of these canons.
If you’re interested in these canons and the canons of all the ecumenical councils, I would suggest that you go to my podcast, Speaking the Truth in Love—here is a little advertizement for my podcast—because I have a commentary on every single one of these canons there. I have a reflection and a commentary on every single canon of all the seven ecumenical councils and several local councils and the so-called apostolic canons which are very early in Church history. So if you’re interested in the canons and in a reflection and commentary on them, or my reflection and commentary on them, just go to the podcast Speaking the Truth in Love, and just look on the series of Bishops and Church Structure, where you can find, very easily, my commentary on these canons.
Canon number 81 of the Quinisext canons, which are, again, the canons of the Fifth and Sixth Ecumenical Councils, this canon says the following:
Whereas we have heard that in some places (and those places would be Egypt, Syria, Ethiopia, Armenia, by the Christians who did not accept Chalcedon, the Fifth Council) in the hymn Trisagion there is added after “Holy Immortal” the words “who was crucified for us, have mercy on us,” and since this as being alien to piety was by the ancient and holy Fathers cast out of the hymn…
So the claim is that if anybody had added it before, the holy Fathers were trying to get rid of it, and they were not blessing people to say these words. That’s what they say; you can discuss the historical accuracy of that, but they claim that this was alien to the piety already of the ancient and holy Fathers who themselves cast out the hymn with these words, and then it continues, not very irenic:
...as also the violent heretics who inserted these new words were cast out of the Church.
So what they claim is that those who had them and those who keep them and those who defend them, which include the heretics, and here that certainly meant specifically those who did not accept Chalcedon, and these canons were written in 692, and the Council of Chalcedon was in 451. The Fifth Council was in 553, so you see you’re talking about these canons more than 200 years after the Council of Chalcedon. These churches who sing this way, they’re very developed, and they’re very firm in their faith, and they want nothing to do with the Church of Constantinople, Rome, and those who are faithful to those churches. So they say:
...the violent heretics who inserted these new words were cast out of the Church. We also, confirming the things which were formerly piously established by our holy Fathers, we anathematize (that means we cut off from the Church) those who after this present decree allow in church this or any other addition to the most sacred hymn (that is, the Thrice-holy Hymn). But if, indeed, he who has transgressed is of the sacerdotal order (meaning in the priestly dignity, which meant he is a bishop, and then also a presbyter and deacon, but I think sacerdotal order, priestly order, they mean bishops) we command that he be deprived of his priestly dignity. But if it be a layperson or a monk, let him be cast out; let him be cast off.
Now, the commentary that’s in the collection of canons on this particular Canon 81 of Quinisext, of Trullo, it simply says:
Whoever adds to the Hymn Trisagion these words, “who was crucified,” shall be deemed heterodox.
Shall not be considered to be orthodox. And then there is a further note, in the Nicene [and] Post-Nicene Fathers series by the editors of that particular collection of the canons which says this:
The addition of the phrase condemned by this canon was probably made first by Peter the Fuller (and he’s the one who clearly did not accept Chalcedon), and though indeed it was capable of a good meaning (as I already tried to argue), if the whole hymn was understood as being addressed to Christ, and although this was admitted by very many of the orthodox (in other words, some people thought that was okay to do), yet (this note continues) as it was chiefly used by the Monophysites…
Who themselves don’t like that term; they consider it degrading, although they are willing to accept Miaphysite: miaphysis, one nature of the Word of God incarnate; we know what we’re talking about: the Oriental Orthodox
...and with an undoubtedly heretical intention it was finally ousted from this position and its adherents were styled theo-paschites.
Theo-paschite means that the divine nature suffered, or that God the Father suffered. Sometimes it’s called Patro-passionism, that the Father suffered. So it continues:
From all of this it came about that by 518, it was a source of disagreement among the Catholics (in other words, the Orthodox Christians of the Roman Empire) and its neighbors, like the Egyptians, the Ethiopians, the Syrians, and so on. Affirming the expression, as looked at by itself to be the touchstone of orthodoxy, the Emperor Justinian tried to have it approved by Pope Hormisdas, but he was not successful, the pontiff only declaring that it was unnecessary and even dangerous.
But the pope did not yet say that it was heretical; it was unnecessary and dangerous.
Fulgentius of Ruspe and Dionysius Exiguus had declared it orthodox. Pope John II almost came to the point of approving the phrase “one of the Trinity suffer,” nor did his successor, Agapitus I, speak any more definitely on this point, but the Fifth Ecumenical Council directly approved the formula. But this, of course, did not touch the point of its introduction into the Trisagion….
In other words, they said, “Okay, say it if you want, but don’t put it in the Thrice-holy Hymn.”
...or (these writers say) more accurately, of the introduction of the words “who was crucified for us.”
It should have been noted that a home synod in 478 (meaning a synod in Syria or Egypt), Peter the Fuller had been deposed for the insertion of this clause, because he extended it to imply that the true God had suffered death upon the Cross, meaning the Trinity as a whole, or God the Father. This sentence was a confirmation of one already pronounced against him by a synod held in Antioch which had raised a man, Stephen by name, to its episcopal throne.
So that means that when Antioch was having an installation of a new bishop, they said that this usage was okay, but:
Such is the history of the matter which, while it seemed to be of little moment (in other words, didn’t mean very much; it wasn’t that important; it was okay to be understood a certain way), yet for many years, to put it mildly, was a source of trouble in the Church.
It was certainly a source of trouble between those who reject Chalcedon until this day and those who accept it, and those who accept Chalcedon, of course, were the Christians of the Roman Empire, the Greek-speaking ones, and those who came from them, like Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia—today’s Eastern Orthodox churches—and those connected to the Roman Catholic Church, so that even the Protestant churches, if they use the Trisagion—and some of them do; some of the Protestant churches sing, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us,” but they also would be in the tradition, the historical tradition, of those who said, “Better not to do it. It’s unnecessary. It’s dangerous, even if it can be understood, but the best and most piously acceptable way is to understand it as a hymn not to Christ, but to the three divine Persons: God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
And that is how this clearly is understood in the Eastern Orthodox churches that accept Chalcedon, that accept the Fifth Council, the Sixth Council, and the Seventh Council (about the icons), who accept the Palamite Councils in the [14th] century, and in general who form a Church together with exactly the same faith. It’s sometimes called the Church of the Seven Councils, or sometimes called the Byzantine Church or the Greek Orthodox Church and those who are Greek Orthodox with the Greek, namely, the Slavs, the Romanians, and those who remain faithful to Chalcedon in Egypt and in Syria and in Jerusalem.
This is what we want to see today, that there was a controversy about the actual wording, and, as it worked itself out in history, the conclusion was: maybe that insertion “who was crucified for us” can be properly theologically defended; it’s better not to have it, and it’s very dangerous, and, in fact, some of the teachers like Peter the Fuller actually taught that the Trinity was somehow incarnate in the incarnation of Jesus. The Byzantine Church would insist that one of the Holy Trinity became incarnate and died for us on the Cross. It wasn’t God the Father, and it’s not the Holy Spirit. It was the Son of God, the Word of God, the Logos of God, the Wisdom of God, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world.
The Trisagion, though it may be possible to direct it to him alone, that would not be the usage, the practice, of the Eastern Orthodox churches, and there even is this canon forbidding these churches to do this. It’s Canon 81 of the Quinisext [canons], which are the canons of the Fifth and Sixth Ecumenical Councils.
So we sing the Trisagion today in the Church:
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
And we direct it to the three Persons of the divine Trinity.